War by George Essex Evans

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Imperious Goddess! proud Bellona! stay,
So I may strive to read thy secret heart;
Tear from thy cruel face the mask away;
Come --- let men see thee as thou really art.
That lofty air, that brave yet scornful smile,
But hides the pitiless stern features 'neath
The mask by which thou dost men's hearts beguile
To risk their lives to win thy laurel-wreath.
Thy gorgeous pageantry, thy nodding plumes,
The martial music's glorious stirring swell,
Are but the shrouds for twice a thousand tombs ---
For twice a thousand but Death's solemn knell.
Two hostile hosts ablaze with glittering steel;
The thunder of artillery; the shock
Of charging squadrons; the proud bugle-peal ---
Clear, loud, yet silvery, as tho' to mock
Some dying soldier's agonised appeal
To Heaven for mercy; then the tiny square,
Lost in the dense gray haze of battle-cloud
While charging hordes press round it everywhere,
Still sternly stubborn--and us sternly proud,
Defiant, and immovable--and like the rock
O'er which old Ocean's mountain billows tear,
Break, burst in thunder, yet can not
Move from its native fastnesses one jot.
And men --- with quickened senses as they hear
The bugle-call, the clash as steel meets steel,   
And see their native banner's crest uprear
High o'er them--then can only feel,
As the battalions of the foe appear
In columned grandeur nearer and more near.
Their pulses throb, and the warm life-blood glow,
And care for nought save victory, and the foe.
Thus ever, Goddess! when with naked sword
Thou standest crying "Glory --- onward go!"   
Men have been ready to obey thy word,
Nor count the odds, nor heed that blood must flow.
And so it is, has been, will be thy plan
So long as earth is earth and man is man.

That is one side the picture; but I would ---
If so be that I can a landscape draw --
Depict both light and shade, as artist should,
And paint the shades of awful glorious war.
I see the moonlight on the battle-field
When all is silent and the fight is o'er.
And there Death's harvest! Tis a mighty yield;
Yet hath he reaped such yields full oft before.
And there they lie --- not singly, but in heaps;
In ghastly heaps; the dying with the dead
All intermingled--while the cold wind sweeps
Across and moans their requiem overhead.
And this is War! Great, glorious, awful War! --
Whose praises poets still are wont to sing ---
With all its pomp, and majesty, and awe!   
Yet, to my mind, it seems a gruesome thing
To think that for each wretch maimed, wounded, torn
By shot, and left stark dead upon the plain
Some loving hearts (tho' far away) must mourn --
Must weep in bitterness --= must weep in vain. "
He dies with honour who doth fall in war,"
They say, and count the heroes of the strife.
Can this the loved one to his home restore,
Or fill his nostrils with the breath of life?
A warrior's grave they deck with laurel leaf,
And honour him whose honour knew no stain,
But to his nearest (in their hopeless grief)
The laurel fades-the cypress will remain.
Imperious Goddess! when it is thy plan   
With martial majesty to set the task
For man to battle with his brother man,
Show each thy countenance - without the mask.

First published in The Queenslander, 9 May 1885

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on May 9, 2012 8:59 AM.

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